German military carrying out structural reforms after sexual abuse scandal

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s military has embarked on a series of structural reforms after a sexual abuse scandal rocked its elite special operations training center in southern Germany, the top military officer told lawmakers in a report obtained by Reuters.

General Volker Wieker, inspector general of the German Bundeswehr, said leaders at the Pfullendorf training center had failed to halt hazing rituals and other “demeaning and tasteless” practices involving both male and female soldiers such as the use of rectal thermometers during instruction.

“We will not tolerate violations of the internal leadership of the German Bundeswehr,” Wieker said in the report. “Our efforts are intended to prevent future incidents of this type.”

German military and government officials condemned the incidents at the training center when they first became public in January and promised serious consequences.

Women account for about 11 percent of the 178,000 soldiers in the German military, though they comprise only about 2 percent of some combat units.

An initial analysis showed the biggest problems involved soldiers and junior officers between the ages of 20-30 and infantry-related units and some training facilities, Wieker said in the report.

Wieker said the investigation had highlighted the need to revamp the current “incoherent” system for reporting problems and to set up a central database for collating complaints and tracking emerging trends.

A new central office set up at the beginning of February to handle complaints about discrimination and violence had already received 40 reports, with most civilian complaints focused on bullying and most military complaints on “sexual assaults”.

Wieker said the military would also carefully reassess its existing mechanisms for reporting discrimination, violence and other problems, and work to create a more open “reporting culture”.

A new ministry office had been created to focus on leadership and would work closely with the new central complaints office and the general inspector for training.

A spokesman for the defense ministry declined to comment on the report. It is to be debated by the defense committee of the Bundestag lower house of parliament on Wednesday.

Editing by Gareth Jones